Congressman wants to stop TVA from outsourcing IT work

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tennessee Valley Authority President Jeffrey Lyash speaks with the Times Free Press from the TVA Chattanooga Office Complex on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tennessee Valley Authority President Jeffrey Lyash speaks with the Times Free Press from the TVA Chattanooga Office Complex on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A Tennessee congressman wants Congress to block an effort by the Tennessee Valley Authority to outsource some of its information technology services since the change will displace about 108 TVA workers next month during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

In a letter to Democratic members in Congress, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, asked that the fiscal relief measures being considered in Washington, D.C., to help prop up the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic also prevent the privatization and outsourcing of federal jobs such as what TVA is planning in Chattanooga and Knoxville.

"In the middle of a global health pandemic and national emergency, it is incomprehensible that TVA would outsource jobs held by hard-working Americans," Cohen wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats. "It is extremely disappointing that TVA is going against its own mission of 'making life better for the people of the Tennessee Valley' and is defending its decision to eliminate these jobs to 'leverage the market.' Unfortunately, it is clear that Congress must step in to ensure additional jobs are not outsourced as the economy begins to recover from the effects of COVID-19."

TVA, which was created as part of the New Deal in 1933 to help aid the impoverished southern Appalachian region during the Great Depression, said the hiring of outside contractors will help strengthen the utility's Cybersecurity and IT operations and is similar to what most other electric utilities have already done.

Despite opposition from one of TVA's biggest employee unions, TVA has entered into contracts with three software development contractors - CapGemini, which is based in France and has half its staff in India; the Canadian-based CGI, and Accenture Federal Services, which is headquartered in Virginia and is a subsidiary of the Irish-based Accenture plc.

TVA told IT workers at its Chattanooga computer center last month that they should receive layoff notices by June as TVA moves to outsource some of its computer and software development jobs to outside contractors.

TVA officials said all of the contract workers who handle sensitive TVA data will be based in the United States and the change is similar to what most other utilities and federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security have already done. TVA Chief Financial Officer John Thomas said the move isn't designed just to save money as much as it is to expand and upgrade IT resources for TVA by tapping into global companies that specialize in power distribution, billing, metering and other IT operations.

"Fundamentally, we did not enter into this simply as a dollar-and-cents decision," Thomas said. "This is a fundamental change in the business model and it's about improving our capability and our ability to use the expertise that exists in the market. That requires us to move from in-house development to outside contract development."

As IT demands rise, TVA will likely spend more money on data processing and IT operations and the work will remain in the United States, TVA President Jeff Lyash said.

"TVA, like every other business, needs to move toward taking advantage of the new cloud-based technologies and that means changing the nature of the workforce," Lyash said.

But Cohen is skeptical of TVA's claims, noting that Capgemini has half of its workforce, or 100,000 workers, in India alone.

"Judging by other utility companies' actions, it is hard to remain optimistic that these jobs will remain in the United States," Cohen said "In 2017, when Pacific Gas and Electric [PG&E] laid off hundreds of workers in California, at least 70 of those jobs were outsourced to India."

Gay Henson, who is employed at TVA and serves as president of Engineering Association, IFTPE Local 1937, said TVA hasn't proven that outsourcing the work will save money and she said it is contrary to TVA's mission of aiding the economic development in the Tennessee Valley.

"Outsourcing the critical technology functions of a federally owned public utility to an overseas firm was always a bad idea," she said. "You're sending sensitive information to who knows who, in an unknown location, putting a huge chunk of the U.S. power grid at risk. To continue on this path now, when our entire economy is frozen and workers and families are desperate for income, isn't in the best interest of TVA or our nation."

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.

photo FILE - In a July 13, 2008 file photo, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., prepares for a debate in Memphis, Tenn. In the city where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, a once-unbeatable former mayor wants the Democratic congressional primary to be a referendum on race. Willie Herenton is accusing white two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of "trying to act black." He tells voters in this majority-black city that they "need to come off that Cohen plantation and get on the Herenton freedom train." (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Britney McIntosh, File) NO SALES

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